Buddha and the Beats

When the young Tibetan monk Chögyam Trungpa came to America to teach, he wore a suit and enjoyed himself in decidedly Western ways. Practicing Buddhists of the day did not know what to make of him. Still, he’s credited as being a pivotal figure in bringing Tibetan Buddhism to the West and has been called a genius and social visionary: one of the greatest spiritual teachers of the 20th century. He’s also known as the bad boy of Buddhism, defying categorization with his rascally lifestyle.

Now, 25 years after his death, a long-awaited feature documentary, Crazy Wisdom: The Life and Teachings of Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, directed by Johanna Demetrakas, explores his phenomenal teachings as well as his earthly escapades. Trungpa, founder of the Naropa Institute in Colorado, was intimate with noted meditators like poet Allen Ginsberg, who helped him create the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetry. He was the teacher of notable Buddhist practitioners like Robert Thurman and Pema Chodrun. Meanwhile, he drank and caroused and married a 16-year-old Westerner, flummoxing the more sober-minded and sacrosanct amongst his American Buddhist contemporaries.

Trungpa’s success in challenging Westerners to embrace the radical freedom of Tibetan Buddhism might have occurred as a result of his total immersion in secular life. Few Westerners are likely to shut themselves away in monasteries to achieve enlightenment. But the challenges were not delivered without some measure of confusion. Steve Clorfeine reports that Trungpa would often be late for a talk, leaving his students sitting there for an hour or two, just waiting. It became a reflection on the culture’s concept of time and how willing they were to relax with an alternative concept – or not-concept. Clorfeine says, “Spending that kind of time, we’d wonder, ‘What’s going on here? Is he going to come? Why is he doing that to us, to me?’ It was the essence of the meditation practice itself.”


Sky Lake Lodge in Rosendale will host two screenings of the film, each to be followed by discussions about the controversial master, scholar, poet, artist and originator of a unique representation of the Shambala vision of Buddhism. See Crazy Wisdom at the Rosendale Theatre on Tuesday and Wednesday, February 7 and 8 at 7:15 p.m. Question-and-answer sessions will be led on Tuesday by Clorfeine and on Wednesday by Arawana Hayashi, both from Sky Lake. Call (845) 658-8556 for information and see www.crazywisdomthemovie.com/trailer.